The first order of business when planning any bucket list trip is deciding how much time is needed. When said trip is to Yellowstone National Park, oh boy, does the answer ever get difficult.
Initially I’d hoped to snag a campsite in Canyon Village Campground, a convenient, centrally located campground where the north and south loop roads meet on the east side. But when I attempted to reserve a campsite at Canyon, it became immediately obvious that my choice was not only a popular one, but one made by others far sooner.
With few options remaining, I settled on two nights in the north at Mammoth Campground and three nights in the south at Grant Village Campground. This would require a mid-trip RV relocation, which, though disruptive and time consuming, was a hell of a lot better than postponing this trip yet another year.
A Forced Change of Plans
All was tickety-boo until a week prior to our departure in late June. An early summer snowstorm coupled with a wild temperature swing resulted in intense flash flooding at Yellowstone National Park. The north half of the park was particularly hard hit.
Within 48 hours, our reservation at Mammoth Campground was cancelled. The north loop was closed and there was uncertainty if any of the park would reopen in time for our visit. We were left to wonder if we should cancel the entirety of our two-and-a-half-week trip.
Ultimately, we decided that even a south half only Yellowstone trip was better than nothing. We frantically altered our trip route eastward through Cody, Wyoming for those two cancelled days. It was a satisfying alternative that I’ll write about in the future.
Then, on the literal day of our arrival, as we approached the east entrance to Yellowstone, an announcement was made that the north loop road would reopen. Yay!
That was certainly good news, but with two days already stricken from our itinerary, we were now facing the daunting task of cramming four days of sightseeing into two. I wasn’t sure we could do it, but we absolutely did.
Here, then, is a pictorial and visual summary of the Yellowstone National Park attractions we witnessed during our shortened, whirlwind camping trip at this amazing park. Note that Lamar Valley and the road to the northeast exit remained closed due to the flooding. The remainder of the park, however, was available to us and we zipped around with abandon to see as much as we could.
Day 1 at Yellowstone National Park
This was our travel day from Buffalo Bill State Park west of Cody. Official check-in time for Grant Village Campground is 13:00 for those with reservations and that’s the time we aimed to be there. There was no time to waste with our shrunken timeframe for Yellowstone.
East Entrance Road
Upper Geyser Basin
Old Faithful is part of the Upper Geyser Basin. This basin is huge with so many hot pools, springs, and geysers. We didn’t even see the entire basin but did manage to take in a good chunk of it.
Day 2 at Yellowstone National Park
This was our first full day in the park and The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was our primary target. With the waterfalls and the canyon, I knew it would be a hit with the whole family. Everything afterwards would be secondary, though still very cool. Basically, we settled upon a counterclockwise route of the southern loop.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
If you could only see one thing at Yellowstone National Park, it would have to be this. The very definition of Earth porn.
Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is much more desolate than the other basins. Much less colour in the pools and springs. It looks like a wasteland which is cool in its own, ravaged by Smaug kind of way.
Artist Paint Pots
I get the name, but this area could as easily have been called chemical waste spill.
Road from Norris to Madison
Black Sand Geyser Basin
A smaller basin that packs a big punch with a couple of amazing hot pools that you can get up close to.
Day 3 at Yellowstone National Park
Our final full day, we were already feeling some fatigue. I knew Mammoth Springs was cool, but it was also about as far from our campsite as one could get via the main loop roads. I didn’t want to force anyone into a miserable experience, so I put it up to a vote whether we would make the drive all the way to Mammoth. They yeas won and we ended up do a clockwise loop of the entire outer ring.
Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin
We missed this basin on Day 2, so decided to pop in on our way to Mammoth Hot Springs. Images of Grand Prismatic Spring are some of the most iconic of Yellowstone. Unfortunately, they’re hard to replicate in person with your feet on the ground. Still worth seeing, just keep expectations in check.
The only disappointing stop of our entire time in Yellowstone. The pullout is on the opposite side of Obsidian Cliff and you can’t walk to it. Like you literally aren’t allowed to.
Fair enough, but there was no obsidian to be seen from that distance. I envisioned a wall of black glass. What we saw was a non-descript cliff that looked no different from all the others. Were it not for the labelling on the map, I’d never had noticed it as anything worth stopping for whatsoever.
Instead, we gazed at a few obsidian boulders used as parking barriers in the roadside pullout. I have no pictures to share. I only include this stop as a warning to you. Obsidian Cliff is not worth the time at all.
Road to Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs
The flood cause us to lose our campground booking here but we made the drive and it was well worth it.
Road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower Junction
There is some gorgeous scenery along the road running from Mammoth to Tower.
I’ll be honest, this was a little underwhelming. It’s a singular petrified tree standing upright which is cool enough. But it’s now caged and there’s nothing else really to see.
Not a spot you hear about much, but I loved it. Lovely views in both directions and, woo hoo, columnar basalt!
There is a trail that takes you closer to the falls but not right up to them. We chose to view from a distance.
Road from Tower Junction to Canyon Village
We were unable to walk the full trail loop due to an ornary bison hanging out by Churning Cauldron. Didn’t have to ask me twice to leave the grumpy beast be.
Day 4 at Yellowstone National Park
Our final day in Yellowstone was another moving day. Our shortened stay had been rewarding considering the circumstances we found ourselves in. We had seen far more than I could have imagined we would when the flooding news broke. And yet, we didn’t come close to seeing all that Yellowstone National Park has to offer.
With a campground check-out time of 11:00, we bid adieu to the grand ole park and turned our focus to Grand Teton National Park to her south. We chose not to see any missed attractions prior to leaving. Gotta save something for the next visit!
The drive to the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park is pretty enough, but less populated with natural attractions. Lewis Lake was likely worth even just a quick stop but with the trailer in tow and a wee bit of lassitude remaining from the previous two plus days, we kept the hammer down all the way to Grand Teton, our next adventure spot.
To read more about Grant Village Campground and our stay in it, please click here for my full, exhaustive review of the campground and village.